Overflow Options at the Port Authority

The Port Authority Bus Terminal is an aging, and increasingly crowded structure.  The 65-year old bus station is practically at capacity. Buses have been boarding on the street outside the Port Authority for years.

While there has been talk of building a replacement for the terminal, it’s not likely that we will see this for at least another twenty years.  The terminal sees about 230,000 passengers a day, not including jitneys and airport buses that board outside, but this is expected to rise to 340,000 by 2040.

Until then, what short-term and medium-term solutions are available to add new alternative to the PABT?

1. Secaucus Junction

There have already been early proposals to build a new bus terminal in New Jersey.  Secaucus Junction is one of the potential locations. A 10-minute train ride away from Penn Station,Secaucus Junction is also just off the turnpike.

NJ Transit has already taken the first steps.  The agency was awarded a $4.6 million grant to build a small bus station on the site.  This station is now served by local buses and Megabus, but it is not used as a terminal for commuter buses from the rest of suburban New Jersey.

Using Secaucus Junction as a terminal for commuter buses would reduce congestion at the Port Authority and Lincoln Tunnel.  It would also serve as a useful transfer point for intrastate trips, between the bus and rail networks.  Trips like Elizabeth – Tenafly or Wayne – New Brunswick currently involve going into Manhattan and back out.

But the success of a bus terminal at Secaucus Junction is pinned on the aging Hudson River tunnels and increasingly crowded trans to Penn Station.  The tunnels will require increasing maintenance in the coming decades.

2. Midtown Surface Streets

Currently, All NJ Transit buses to Midtown terminate at the Port Authority.  Other operators’ buses drop off and pick up their passengers along 34th and 42nd Streets. The MTA’s express X17 bus from Staten Island terminates at 57th and 3rd. Some of Academy’s buses from New Jersey drop off along 42nd Street and Madison Avenue.

Running NJ Transit buses along similar routes through Midtown would be a convenience for riders. This could let passengers leave the bus closer to their place of work, or make it easier to connect to the 1,2,3,N,R,Q,B,D,F,M,4,5, and 6 trains.

The downsides to this alternative are apparent to anyone who has seen Midtown Manhattan at rush hour.  Traffic slows down buses to nearly walking speed.  A loop to the East Side and back to the Lincoln Tunnel could easily take half an hour, making this kind of operation expensive. And for outbound trips, passengers would not be able to use the Port Authority’s ticket booths, so drivers would have to take cash fares, or some other payment solution would have to be found.

3. Ferries

It’s a simple concept – instead of boarding their bus at the Port Authority, commuters could take and ferry across the Hudson River and board their bus on the New Jersey side.  This is already what many train commuters already do in Hoboken.

NJ Transit and New York Waterway teamed up last year to provide joint bus and ferry tickets for NJ Transit bus lines along River Road: the 156R, 158, and 159R. In the evening, NJ Transit passengers can take a free ferry bus to the dock at W. 39th Street, take the ferry to Port Imperial, where they can board their regular NJ Transit bus.

In the near future this could be expanded to other NJ Transit bus routes in Hudson County, or commuter buses from Middlesex County like the NJ Transit 64 or 68, which serve employment centers along the waterfront in Jersey City and Hoboken.

Another possible location for a bus/ferry transfer point could be at Lincoln Harbor, a ferry landing that lies within the shadows of the Lincoln Tunnel Helix.  Buses from all across the state use the Lincoln Tunnel, someone of which could be diverted to connect with ferries.

4. The Holland Tunnel

The Holland Tunnel sees far fewer bus passengers than the Lincoln Tunnel.  2013 Hub Bound Travel Data says that on a representative weekday, 87,531 passengers arrived by bus through the Lincoln Tunnel between 7am-10am, but only 6,115 bus passengers arrived through the Holland Tunnel.

Some private carriers, like Suburban Transit, send their buses through the Holland Tunnel to serve the Lower Manhattan market. Currently, NJ Transit’s only bus to the Holland Tunnel is the 120 from Bayonne, which has only 6 trips in each direction.

Downtown Manhattan has declined in importance as a business district since the September 11th attacks, but it is still a huge employment center.  The lack of bus services from New Jersey to Lower Manhattan is almost puzzling.  It troubles me how much time must be wasted by Northern and Central New Jersey residents who take buses North from their homes to the Port Authority, then spend 20 minutes on the subway heading South to get to work.

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